Building Consequences For Your Children

Published on October 22nd, 2015

Updated on January 3rd, 2024

Mom Kisses Her Child

The power struggle can truly be a challenge throughout parenthood. Harnessing it all, the empathy, the listening, and the de-escalation, is how parents follow through on consequences.
Consistency in consequences is a tough job- especially when you have just gotten through the first fit. Oftentimes, it’s easier to “quick-fix” than it is to use meaningful consequences.

Goals of Discipline/Consequence

The goal of a consequence is to help your child become a more reflective and independent person. When a child begins to learn that their choices matter and they can thereby alter the course of things through their own choices, they are maturing.

Consequences can also teach a child that big or uncomfortable feelings can result from a choice that they make. When your child starts asking questions like, “I wonder why I did that?” or starts commenting, “Wow, I’ve really made a mess for myself!” you know they are maturing. Or, perhaps your consequence is designed to communicate that rules and structure are a good thing and exist for safety, security, and well-being. If your child says something like, “I think the teacher was right, next time I’ll pay better attention,” again, this is a child beginning to grasp a consequence.

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People who observe and reflect on their behavior, or have some insight into why they do what they do, are less susceptible to addiction, unhealthy relationships, and a variety of other struggles that can result in serious problems down the road. Help pave this way for your child through careful and consistent discipline.

Stay Away from Shaming

The goal of discipline is not to shake your child’s identity or security. It’s not to say, “You are a terrible listener!” or “You are getting what you deserve!” A child who experiences discipline and consequences in the punitive sense only feels insecure. Depending on the innate sensitivity of the child’s temperament, these kinds of statements can stick with them and do more harm than good.

Don’t Enable Either

Remember the goal of discipline is to help teach and reflect. Also, remember that wherever there is conflict there is growth trying to happen.

Expect resistance when you enforce a consequence. It does not feel good for a parent or child! However, your role is to support in such a way that your child is better for it.

Example: When you say, “Oh honey, I know, I thought I made it clear to you but it’ll work out. Just don’t do it again next time,” this ultimately does a disservice to your child.

Child Washing Dishes

Putting it into Practice

Say Billy is aware that if chores are not done on Saturday he cannot go out and play. All Saturday, Billy has been putting off doing their chores. You have given him gentle reminders of the chores and consequences, along with time limits and instructions. At five o’clock, the chores are not done. You have to enforce the consequences.

What Not To Do:

The Shaming Response: “This is an ongoing problem for you! I don’t know when you are ever going to learn.”

The Enabling Response: “You did about half of your chores. This one time, you can go play, but next time I need you to do all of it.”

The Helpful Consequence: Have Billy stay at home and instruct him to inform the neighbors that he will not be able to play. Teach him that he needs to cancel his plans because he did not follow through on his end of the deal. This feels like a very “grown-up” thing to do, but you are teaching Billy that the power of his choices has grown-up consequences.

Note: Remember to empathize with your child. “I know this really stinks. You were looking forward to playing outside.”

The final step is to start a conversation about consequences. Keep in mind Billy, whether he knows it or not, experienced a few things:

His choice made him feel disappointed. Gently help him reflect on the point that if he had completed all of his chores, the feeling would have been accomplishment and happiness, not disappointment and sadness. Remind him that he gets to control that.

His choice affected others. Remind Billy that the neighbors were affected by his choices as well. Give other examples of the way we carry out responsibilities so we can be there for others.

Example: Even when you do not feel like going grocery shopping you still go because your family needs food. “What if I just did not go? What would we eat?”

Fun privileges are earned, not guaranteed. Giving Billy the impression that he just gets to do fun things all the time sets him up for a lifetime of disappointment and entitlement. Teach your child the value of hard work by demonstrating that good things can happen after hard work.

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